Former Evarts mayor found dead in burning home; foul play suspected

jkegley@herald-leader.comFebruary 18, 2013 

The former mayor of a small community in Harlan County was found dead after a suspicious house fire Monday morning.

Ronnie King, 59, was found inside his home on Kelly Street in Evarts, about 70 miles east of Corbin, near the Kentucky-Virginia line.

State police released few details about the investigation Monday. A short news release said preliminary evidence indicated "foul play is suspected." No arrests had been made.

Trooper Shane Jacobs, spokesman for the state police post in Harlan, said investigators were treating the case as a death investigation pending an autopsy. A cause of death had not been determined, he said.

However, Jerome King, Ronnie King's brother, said in a phone interview that he and family members think the former mayor was killed. He said someone trashed the house and set the fire to cover up the crime.

Jerome King lives in a trailer on Ronnie King's property. He said he noticed smoke coming from the house shortly before 11 a.m. Monday and ran over to see if his brother was OK.

Inside, he saw his brother on his back with his arms crossed over his stomach. He said his brother had been "brutally mistreated" before his death.

"I went into shock when I seen him," he said.

The Evarts Fire Department extinguished the fire, and investigators spent much of the rest of the day going in and out of the house, Jerome King said. Forensics investigators remained at the scene Monday night searching for fingerprints, Jacobs said.

Ronnie King's body was removed about 6 p.m. It will be taken to the state medical examiner's office in Frankfort, the news release said.

Jerome King said he didn't know why someone might have killed his brother. He described Ronnie King as a loner who always looked out for his family.

"He's never been married, nothing like that. He worked all his life and never missed a day of work," he said. "He saved his money and started buying properties."

Many of the trailers and properties surrounding Ronnie King's house were occupied by family members, Jerome King said.

King served as a mayor and as a city councilman in Evarts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

As mayor, Ronnie King got a bridge, a water tower and a new fire station built, his brother said. "He was the only one got anything done for this town," Jerome King said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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